Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Question from R.A., Florida

I have a 5 yr old son who was born deaf; he has a serve/profound hearing loss. He has limited sign language and no speech. His behavioral is the problem. I just can’t seem to control him – he is so active. Is there anything i can do to help him so he can be able to focus more and be able to learn?

Question from R.A., Florida. Posted April 22, 2014.
Response from Patrick Brice - Gallaudet University

Language is crucial to children learning how to regulate their emotions and their behavior.   In children with very limited language, great patience is required from adults, as these children are missing an important tool.  There is no simple solution, but Ross Greene has argued that all children want to be good and would be good if they could.  Behavior that is not cooperative or compliant is not because children want to misbehave, but because they cannot organize to do what is asked.  The adult’s job is to remember this point (easier said than done!) and help them learn to organize.  The area of psychology that has had the greatest success dealing with behavior difficulties in children with low levels of communication has been Applied Behavior Analysis.  This approach, though, requires effort from the adult who is practicing it, reinforcing children for approximations of cooperative behavior and not allowing and certainly not reinforcing uncooperative behavior.   There are specialists in most urban areas who provide ABA services, both in schools and in home; you might ask about that.

Additionally, use pictures, drawings, or photos of the child doing the desired activity and keep them handy (laminating them helps) to point out to the child what is desired of him along with rewards that will be given immediately upon cooperation.  Start with very low expectations so that children are rewarded quickly, easily, and frequently and then gradually make the expectations greater.  Remember also that children often have much more energy than adults, so finding ways for a child to expend his or her energy before asking them to do more quiet activities (e.g., household chores, homework, coming to the dinner table) will be important.  Rewards should be things that the child truly enjoys and that can be given easily and cheaply.  No need for trips to Disney World, but play time with particular games, favorite foods, or other enjoyable activities should be used.  Rewards may need to change as well since children will tire of things.

This approach does not always work quickly and in fact when first employed, behavior tends to get worse as children believe they must be more uncooperative to get what they got before.  But, with time and patience, it can make a difference.